A Commuter Marriage

With all the talk about commuter marriages where couples fly thousands of miles to snatch weekends together my type of commuter marriage sounds pretty tame.  My spouse and I spend about forty-five minutes at the beginning and end of each workday conversing as we drive back and forth to our jobs.  Sometimes think it could be called the scenic road to intimacy.

When couples are courting we spend hours discussing the state of the world, sports, literature, politics – and our dreams.  Then we marry and the children arrive.   There are so  many things we have to talk about – chores to be organized, errands to be assigned,  Michael’s term project on the rivers of China to be planned, and Sally’s orthodonture to be reviewed.  Not much time is left to discuss Megatrends or whether the political climate is right to elect the first woman president.

Our commute gives us time to speculate and muse on the world, ourselves – and our dreams.  I admit talk in the morning is often desultory and languid, but my husband knows that if conversation lags he has only to ask me what I’m thinking and I’ll obligingly and automatically trace a list of associations; that talking about our friend in New York reminded me of the Korean vegetable market under our old apartment and that reminded me of Risotto Primavera which I am thinking of serving Saturday night and when we introduce our friend George to yet another female and that will lead us into another and more energetic discussion on the futility and evils of matchmaking.

Now matchmaking is one of those topics that can lead to disagreement if not downright argument.  It must be acknowledged that one of the dangers of spending a lot of time talking is that you raise the odds of hitting on controversial subjects. I’m sure there are couples who never argue and think they have a perfect, idyllic relationship, and that they are completely in tune with one another’s ideas.  My own feeling is that they escape argument because after they arrange who is going to pick up the cleaning they go off in different directions and have nothing further to say til it’s “please pass the salt” time at the dinner table.

Still, if there is more chance for disagreement, the length of the ride also limits the duration of our contention. And if we were  angry before we even started our drive, we  have  both found it impossible to sulk for forty-five minutes in such close

quarters while insisting that “nothing” is the matter.

There are people who credit the success of their marriage to their habit of never going to bed angry.  My husband and I have a different rule; we never say good-bye without coming to some kind of accommodation and sealing it with a very noisy kiss.

Actually, I’m very keen on noisy good-bye kisses – even when we haven’t been arguing.

Our conversations at the end of the day tend to be a bit more spirited since the triumphs and irritations of the day are still fresh.  They begin, “You won’t believe what he did today!”  or “Guess what I did . . . who I saw . . . what I heard . . .  today?”  The responses are appropriately helpful, appreciative, puzzling, amused, scandalized or outraged.  It’s time to ask questions and offer support.  The most productive talks we have had about how to handle our bosses or difficult co-workers,  whether to  return to school and how to manage all that implies, have taken place on the road.  There we are, out of reach of the demands of children, the phone and the rest of the world.  There we have time to concentrate solely on each other as we chug along inside a protective and private cocoon.

One reason long distance marriages are difficult is that relationships don’t exist in a vacuum.  There are a thousand threads that tie us to neighbors, friends and co-workers.  On our ride we have time to notice the construction at one neighbor’s house, note that this neighbor’s daughter won the last high  school track meet and that another’s son is getting married.  There is time to speculate about a colleague’s chance for promotion or the possibility of another’s being “retrenched”.

All this “gossip”, these threads that anchor us to our daily reality can never be conveyed during a long distance phone call or communicated during a weekend when a husband and wife are so hungry for each other, for news of their thoughts, feelings and  activities which must be shared in such a rush, that news of the  outside world is relegated to a very low priority.  A long distance phone call doesn’t encourage you to ramble, allowing for  the disjointed thinking that is the road to new insights,  understandings and appreciation.

Our rides are a leisurely forty-five minutes long.  That’s just about long enough to note the weather and discuss the news.  Somehow we never read the same sections or articles in the paper so the  only way we keep up with all the news is  constantly  to quiz each other, “Did you read . . . ?”

And  three quarters of an hour is just about as long  as  I  can sustain a philosophical conversation.  Who would think that a recitation of the doings of the computer committee meeting would end  in  a  discussion of the relative merits of  the  theory  of evolution versus creationism?

Three  years  ago  we  bought a new car and in a burst of  economy we chose the stripped down model; it has no radio.  From time to time we think it would be nice to listen to gentle music in the morning or the news in the evening.

I think we’ll just keep talking